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the most wonderful time of the year

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ONE;

Their first Christmas without Jake was not exactly a cheery affair.

Clarke was understandably apathetic towards the whole holiday. Abby likened her own feelings to heartbreak mixed with intense exhaustion. Heartbreak, because her twelve year-old daughter was so deep in her grief at the loss of her father that she couldn’t even muster up a single answer when Abby gently asked what she’d like for Christmas; exhaustion, of course, from the sheer act of surviving day after day as a new widower and single mother, to boot.

There was nothing festive about losing your husband and the father of your child to a freak accident at his aeronautics firm a month before Christmas.

Abby and Clarke spent Christmas Eve locked away from the world in their once cozy, now ghost-filled house. Clarke hadn’t spoken to Abby for close to a week. The girl blamed Abby for Jake’s death, and Abby couldn’t really fault her for it: it had been Abby’s pushing, after all, that had him hired under one of Thelonius Jaha’s umbrella companies, and it was also her pushing that he try and get home quickly that night so he wouldn’t miss Clarke’s fencing lessons. Sloppy work and a distracted dad were not a good combination.

And so Abby sat alone in her white-panelled living room with a cup of cold tea in her hands, and she stared at the snow falling gently outside the window with a sort of numb acceptance sitting like an old friend in her body. They weren’t doing Christmas this year. This year, they were alone.

Which is when the doorbell rang, naturally.

And there was Marcus Kane.

“Hi,” he said, a little stiffly, shifting his feet and holding up a paper sack that clinked as it moved. “I know we don't--we aren’t--I was just thinking about him tonight, and then about you, and Clarke, and how this was his favourite time of year…”

Marcus trailed off. The pair of them hadn’t always had the easiest relationship--in fact, Jake had often described it as borderline hostile. But in the month since they’d all lost Jake, Abby had found endless amounts of quiet understanding in Marcus Kane. It was something that clearly took them both by surprise (though it shouldn’t have, given that they both had loved Jake, just in different ways), but something they both appreciated deeply.

“So you...brought groceries?” Abby asked, still keeping him out in the snow. A bit of revenge for his comment on her naivete from three years before, perhaps.

Marcus reached inside the sack and withdrew a bottle of red wine.

“I brought alcohol.”

They didn’t drink a lot. It seemed wrong to get smashing drunk with Clarke upstairs and Christmas day creeping ever closer, but they did drink enough that they could comfortably relax on Abby and Jake’s--no, no, just Abby’s, now--deep grey couch and talk about everything that didn’t involve Jake, everything that wasn’t a reminder of Jake. They spoke of Marcus’ mother, and of the flourishing church she ran; they spoke of Clarke’s grades, and her friends, and the little boy and girl who lived next door to Marcus and who liked to pop into his kitchen whenever they liked to help themselves to his fridge.

They talked until there wasn’t really a need for words anymore. Abby laid her head against Marcus’ shoulder and watched the clock strike midnight with him right by her side.

“Merry Christmas, Marcus,” Abby whispered.

“Merry Christmas, Abby.” Marcus murmured back.

TWO;

It took four years for Abby and Marcus to find themselves under some well-placed mistletoe.

In the years since their first Christmas Eve together, Marcus had become something of a surrogate uncle to Clarke. And with Marcus came Bellamy and Octavia, and then Raven, Monty, Jasper, and Lincoln (Finn, who used to be a part of their little crew, was swiftly booted out after his treatment of Raven was revealed to the group), which meant that Abby’s house buzzed with the shouts and energy of teenagers at any given point during the year.

At Christmas, the buzz became a dull roar. And, to Abby’s immense shock, she really didn’t mind.

She and Marcus had grown close over the years. Co-parenting/supervising a group of rowdy teenagers helped bond them like nothing Abby had ever experienced before. The ghost of Jake had slowly faded to a treasured shared memory between them, and life, as Abby had once promised Marcus, had gone on.

“So,” Marcus drawled out, sidling up next to Abby with spiked eggnog for them both. “You let Clarke decorate, huh?”

“She and the kids, yes. Why?” Abby turned from watching the teens gossip madly in the living room to glance up at him. He had a beard, now, and was rugged in a way that Abby heartily appreciated. She felt a pull somewhere near her navel at the look he was giving her: a little smug, a little affectionate, with a half-smile slipping across his features. Oh, it was a good look on him.

“Clarke knows you too well.” Marcus pointed upward. There, a perfectly crisp sprig of mistletoe hung ominously above their heads.

Abby’s eyes widened in panic. Sure, she’d thought about it. Sure, she maybe wanted it. But she hadn’t kissed anyone since Jake died--she hadn’t done anything with anyone since Jake died. Marcus was the closest thing she had to a partner, and that was far more about the kids than it was their relationship.

Wasn’t it?

Marcus was still looking down at her. He seemed to be waiting her out, like he just knew she needed a moment or two to freak out internally over the prospect of a simple kiss.

“What do you think?” Marcus asked, shrugging up at the mistletoe. “Wanna give it a shot?”

Yes, Abby’s brain automatically provided for her. Well...that answered that, didn’t it?

“I think I do.” Abby whispered, looking up at him and hoping he could sense her nervousness, as well as her eagerness.

“Mm, good, because I’ve been meaning to do this for years.”

And then he was kissing her. And she was kissing him, and it was electric and deep and their lips fit together so perfectly that Abby had half a mind to break away and let out a gasp--but she was smarter than that, and so she wrapped the arm not holding her eggnog around his neck and pressed herself against him, instead, opening her mouth under his to let his tongue slip between her lips.

“BREAK IT UP!” Bellamy suddenly yelled. Abby and Marcus parted at once; Abby’s hand came to cover her kiss-swollen lips as she looked out at the kids she had completely forgotten were there. Marcus turned his head into her shoulder to muffle a chuckle.

“That was just supposed to be a little kiss!” Clarke whined, her head resting against her raised knees in a clear attempt to avoid looking at Abby and Marcus. “You weren’t supposed to make out like teenagers!”

“Sorry, kid,” Abby said, mortified.

Marcus, however, didn’t look embarrassed. His eyes were bright and happy, like they’d finally crossed a hurdle they’d both been racing at and dragging their feet towards at the same time. Which, Abby supposed, they had.

She let the embarrassment fall from her face, and her hand, too, to give Marcus a cheeky look under her lashes.

“Kids, look away,” Marcus said, cupping Abby’s face in his palm and bringing her lips close to his. “I don’t think we’re quite through with the mistletoe yet.”

A chorus of groans filled the room as his lips descended on hers once again.

THREE;

The first Christmas without Clarke was quiet at first, especially in contrast to the recent holidays spent with a house full of rowdy teenagers. She had decided to stay at school in California with Bellamy and Raven, wanting to savor their first year as a triad and still be able to go to the beach in the middle of December.

With Clarke gone the rest of the youths that usually filled the Kane-Griffin household during Christmas eve had also vanished. Abby was sitting on the couch, wrapped in a soft grey cardigan, staring wistfully out at the snow, wondering why she and Marcus hadn’t made other plans for the holiday since everyone else had, when the phone rang.

Abby answered on the second ring, tearing her eyes away from the falling snow. A smile broke across her face as she saw the picture of Clarke sticking her tongue out lighting up the screen of her cell phone.

“Merry Christmas, Mom!”

“Merry Christmas, honey. How’s California?”

“It’s good. I miss you, and snow. Bellamy almost burnt down kitchen trying to cook a turkey,” Abby gasped as Clarke continued, “you might want to have some words with Marcus on his teaching abilities. Bellamy claims he followed the instructions exactly, but he definitely went wrong somewhere.”

Abby’s concern waned into a low chuckle as Clarke explained.

“Well you’ll have to come home and watch next time to be sure you kids actually know what you’re doing. What’s your plan now?”

“We ordered takeout and we’ve each picked a Christmas movie for our marathon later. I’ve chosen It’s a Wonderful Life, of course”

“Naturally,” Abby agreed, knowing it was Clarke’s favorite.

“Bellamy insists on Christmas Vacation, and I think Raven picked Iron Man 3 for some reason.”

In the background Abby heard Raven shout: “IT’S SET AT CHRISTMAS CLARKE, IT COUNTS.”

“Well it sounds like you have a lovely evening planned, sweetheart.” Abby briefly pondered mimicking Clarke’s plans by snuggling up with Marcus for a movie marathon.

“Do you two have any big plans since you don’t have a house full of noisy teenagers this year?” Clarke sounded like she knew something Abby didn’t, but Abby decided to let it go.

“Not sure yet, he should be back any minute now. He said he had some ‘last minute Christmas shopping to do’ so I’m really not sure what he’s up to.”

“Mhmm, interesting.”

As if by some kind of Christmas magic, Marcus’ car pulled back into the driveway.

“Ah, there he is now.”

“Well, you kids have fun now. Try not to get into too much trouble under the mistletoe.”

“I’m not making any promises, kid.” Abby grinned, her whole mood brightening and her body warming as Marcus walked in the door.

“Gross. Anyway, have a good Christmas Mom. I’ll see you--er, talk to you soon!”

Abby did a mental double take at Clarke’s slip up but let it go as Marcus set an arm full of groceries down on the kitchen island and moved to steal a kiss from her.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”

Abby listened until Clarke hung up and then set her phone aside.

“About time you showed up, I was beginning to think I was going to have to spend Christmas alone!”

“Never,” Marcus feigned a scandalized look as he began pulling fresh ingredients and a decadent-looking bottle of wine from the grocery bags he’d brought inside with him.

“Bellamy almost burned down their apartment today, so I hope whatever you’re planning doesn’t involve fire, because I’m not sure I can trust you around an open flame if this is what happens with your protegé.”

“Bite your tongue, woman. Did he really?” Marcus looked a little shocked, concerned, and amused all at once.

Abby nodded and proceeded to tell him about all of Clarke, Bellamy and Raven’s Christmas plans (including their mess of a turkey) as he got out the crockpot and filled it to the brim with a mix of vegetables and spices and pot roast that had her mouth watering.

“Well that’s gotta go for about 5 more hours, want to open one of your Christmas presents early?”

Abby’s eyes lit up with delight.

“Yes, please.”

Marcus pulled a red envelope from one of the kitchen’s seldom used drawers, and Abby raised an eyebrow at just how long he’d been hiding presents right under her nose.

“Merry Christmas, Abby.”

Abby carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of paper, on it was a printed flight itinerary for the 26th through the 3rd, for three adults, round-trip from California to Boston.

“Oh, Marcus,” Abby’s eyes glistened with tears at the thought of seeing Clarke over new years instead of having to wait until spring break as she’d expected.

“We planned it back when she and Bellamy and Raven had planned to stay in Cali for part of their break. She’d wanted to do the whole first adult Christmas with them, but couldn’t bear the thought of not coming home at all, so I decided to bring them all back for New Years. We can do fireworks and everything.”

Abby set the paper aside and threw her arms around his shoulders.

“Thank you,” she whispered it into his neck and pulled him impossibly closer. His hands were soft and warm against her waist.

“How long did you say that needed to cook again?” She questioned, a hint of mischief in her voice, her lips brushing against his ear.

“We’ve still got about four and a half hours.” His hands slipped under her shirt, pushing it up as he backed her up against the counter. “Got any idea how we can fill our Christmas Eve?”

“I can think of a few,” she said, pulling her shirt off over her head and hopping up onto the counter to pull him between her spread legs. “After all, we do have the house to ourselves this year.”

FOUR;

Hawaii was deliciously warm this time of year.

Clarke’s newfound tradition of spending Christmas with her misfit friends extended into her second year, too, and so Abby and Marcus suddenly found themselves once more without a house full of kids to throw Christmas for. It was almost depressing to look around the house and not spot a trace of mischief or smuggled wine from the kids who usually populated the place. And this time, Abby had been assured, there was no surprise visit coming from her daughter--this was truly her first holiday without her.

Abby had watched the winter storm warnings start to roll in, and the temperature drop, and an idea had sprung into her mind. What the hell was the point in staying home when it wasn’t going to be decked with its usual Christmas cheer? Why wait out the snow and the slush and the cold when there was nothing keeping her and Marcus in town for the season?

They arrived in Maui two days before Christmas.

The resort they were staying in was tastefully decorated with twinkling lights, and trees dripping in red and gold. Abby and Marcus spent Christmas Eve-Eve (which was definitely a thing, according to both Clarke and Abby) exploring the surrounding town and its beaches; one of Abby’s immediate new favourite memories was the look on Marcus’ face when he finally saw her in a black bikini with a gold clasp in the centre of the bust and perfectly tied bows holding up the bottoms at her hips.

Christmas Day dawned bright and warm. Abby rolled over in their frankly gigantic bed and found Marcus’ side empty. She sat up, slowly, looking around for her missing partner with a puzzled look on her face.

“Out here, baby,” Marcus’ voice came from the separate sitting area of their suite. Abby reached over and slipped on his discarded t-shirt and her sleep shorts, padding quickly into the sitting room--but he wasn’t quite there, he was further out, lounging on their wide patio with an entire breakfast spread laid out on the table there.

“Marcus?” Abby made her way into the warm, morning air and took a moment to inhale the fresh smell of the ocean lapping gently at the sand off of their room. “How did you--”

Abby froze. There, in the middle of the array of fruits, croissants, warm french toast, and what she could only guess were mimosas was a small box, wrapped in shiny red paper and tied with a gold bow.

“I thought we weren’t exchanging gifts!” Abby said, immediately frustrated at him as she sat in her chair and levelled a glare at Marcus’ smirking face. “It was your idea not to exchange gifts, Marcus! ‘We’re going to Hawaii, Abby, that’ll be our gifts to each other’. That is exactly what you said!”

Marcus reached over and snagged the box from the table to hold out to her in exasperation.

“Would you just open it, Griffin?”

“Reluctantly, Kane,” Abby replied, eyes narrowed at the growing expression of smugness on his bearded face.

The ribbon and wrapping part was easy. The slowly understanding just what she was holding in her hand, not so much.

“Is this--are you--” Abby stared down at the Tiffany blue box in her hand. “Marcus, is this…?”

“Mmhmm,” Marcus hummed.

And then he was in front of her. He was still in his boxers from the night before and the curls from his hair fell alluringly over his forehead, and he was--he was kneeling, he was down on one knee--

“Oh my god.” Abby felt tears spring to her eyes at once. Marcus reached forward and plucked the box from Abby’s shaky grasp; inside, sitting comfortably in its silk lining, was a white-gold Tiffany engagement ring. “Oh my god, Marcus!”

“Abby,” Marcus said, laughing a little at her near-hysteria. “Will you--”

“Marcus, you are not doing this!” Abby cried, somehow smiling from the shock of it all, somehow completely ready but unable to stop the excited anxiety rushing through her system.

“Well, I’m going to try, if someone would stop interrupting!” Marcus said, indignant.

“Right, yes, sorry. Go ahead. I’ll be quiet now.”

“That’s a first.” Marcus muttered. Abby swatted his bent knee. “Anyway, as I was saying--don’t you dare interrupt me this time, Abigail, I have been practicing--Abby Griffin, I love you very, very much, and I would be more than honoured if you and I could make this whole thing official and invite all our insane kids to watch us get married. So, will you marry me?”

And the voice that had once shouted yes at Abby while she stood under a bit of mistletoe once again came to her rescue.

“Of course I will,” Abby whispered, crying and laughing at the same time. “Yes, Marcus. Yes.”

Marcus barely took the time to slide the ring onto her finger before he was hauling her up and embracing her tightly, wrapping his arms around her so that he could kiss her slowly and happily, holding her against him like he never wanted to let go.

And now, Abby thought, he’d never have to.

FIVE;

Two years after Marcus proposed they spent Christmas in the hospital. Abby found it oddly fitting that since so many of the other milestones in their relationship had happened on or around Christmas, of course their baby would decide to show up two weeks early just in time for the holiday.

Clarke had only just made it home in time for the birth of her new sister, having flown in Christmas eve-morning with her lovers in tow. Abby’s water had broken mid-way through her and Clarke’s favorite movie and all five of them had piled into Marcus’ SUV and raced to the hospital. Raven and Clarke had timed Abby’s contractions and held her hands in the back seat as Marcus drove and Bellamy used the GPS on his phone to find the quickest route.

As Abby looked around her, she thought this might be her favorite Christmas so far. Clarke slept awkwardly, curled up in the chair beside them and Bellamy and Raven had managed to make good use of the large window seat. Marcus was pressed up against her side, his arm around her, the two of them squeezed into the small hospital bed. All the while the newest member of their family slept softly against her chest.

Abby glanced up at Marcus who couldn’t take his eyes of the tiny snoring baby, his hand brushing the lightest of touches against her back.

“I think this is the best Christmas present we’ve ever gotten.”

Marcus pressed a kiss into her hair.

“I couldn’t agree more.”

Snow was falling again outside the hospital window, Abby noticed, as the small child in her arms yawned and stretched. Abby had never been more content in her life, here at four am in a hospital on Christmas morning, surrounded by her favorite people in the world. She stole a soft kiss from Marcus before returning her gaze to the still sleeping baby.

“Merry Christmas, Joules Vera Kane.”